…as APC queries competence of suits
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – Justice Ademola Adeniyi of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, yesterday, adjourned 10 separate suits that are seeking to disqualify the Presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Major-General Mohammadu Buhari, rtd, from participating in the March 28 presidential election, for hearing today.
In a ruling yesterday, Justice Adeniyi said he would hear the substantive suits and all the preliminary objecti
ons that were raised against them by both Buhari and the APC together.
All the pending applications were consolidated for hearing on a day two human right activists, Mr. Chukwuma Ochu who is a member of the APC in Rivers State, and Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa from Lagos state, applied to be joined as interested parties in the matter.
The court noted that since all the suits were basically anchored on the same subject matter, which is the eligibility or otherwise of Buhari to contest in the forthcoming presidential election having allegedly supplied false information to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, with regards to his educational qualifications, it would be better to slate all of the matters for hearing on the same day.
Justice Adeniyi stressed that whatever judgment that is entered on the very first suit which was lodged before the court by Mr. Chukwunweike Okafor, would impact on all the other cases pending against the APC presidential candidate.
Specifically, the plaintiffs are among other things, praying the court for a declaration that the 1st defendant, Buhari, is not eligible to participate in the 2015 presidential election for failure to comply with the terms for submission of list of candidate and affidavit of personal particulars of persons seeking election to the office of President.
They are seeking similar reliefs, including, “A declaration that by the combined provisions of sections 31(1) (2) and (3) of the 2010 Electoral Act (as amended) and INEC Form CF 001, the 1st defendant is mandatorily obliged by law to comply strictly with the provisions laid down under the Electoral Act (as amended) and INEC Form CF 001 as it relates to attaching evidence of the 1st defendant’s birth certificate and evidence of his educational qualifications as required under INEC Form C.F 001.
“A declaration that the Curriculum Vitae and Voters Registration card attached by the 1st defendant in his INEC Form C.F 001 and submitted to the 2nd defendant, INEC, as a Presidential Candidate in 2015 general election is not in conformity with the form prescribed by the Electoral Act/INEC Form C.F. 001 and is manifestly in contravention of the said Act/INEC Form C.F. 001 and therefore null and void”.
One of them, Mr. Max Ozoaka, is particularly seeking for an order of court declaring as invalid the INEC Form C.F. 001 as filled and submitted by Buhari “as being inchoate and manifestly in contravention of the provisions of the Electoral Act”.
He argued that Buhari’s failure/ refusal to attach evidence of his birth certificate and educational qualifications, “which are conditions inherent/ precedent as prescribed in the form”, was in breach of relevant laws in Nigeria pertaining to presidential election.
He prayed the court not to only declare the Form CF. 001 that was submitted to INEC by Buhari for the 2015 presidential election as incompetent, but to also declare that the Voters Card that was attached to the form was false on the ground that as at when the voters card was issued, the 1st defendant was not a “public servant” as he allegedly stated.
“An order declaring the said voters card as void for containing false information about the identity/occupation of the 1st defendant.
“An order disqualifying the 1st defendant from contesting and/or participating in the Presidential election fixed for February 14, 2015 or any date that the 2nd defendant may fix on the ground that the information contained in the 1stbdefendant’s INEC Form CF. 001 is false.
“An order restraining the 2nd defendant from permitting the 1st defendant from participating in the Presidential election fixed for February 14, 2015 or any other date that the 2nd defendant may fix”.
Ozoaka posed eight questions for the determination of the court, among which included; “Whether having regards to the provision of section 31(8) of the Electoral Act, as amended, and INEC Form C.F. 001 filed by the 1st defendant and the fact that the 1st defendant stated therein that he is a member of the All Progressives Congress Party (APCP), whether the 1st defendant is a member of a political party recognised by law in Nigeria which will enable him to participate in the 2015 presidential election.
“Whether or not the identification/voters card submitted by the 1st defendant to the 2nd defendant wherein the 1st defendant is shown to be a “public servant” as at January 22, 2011, is true or false?
“Whether or not the document purported to be the Statement of Result/Result Sheet of the 1st defendant’s Secondary School Certificate Examination (SSCE) provided by the Government College Katsina and the Katsina State Ministry of Education and referred to at the Press Conference of the 1st defendant held on January 21, 2015, is truly and correctly that of the 1st defendant, having regard to the name of the 1st defendant as stated in his affidavit submitted to the 2nd defendant and the name in the said document”.
In a 30 paragraphed affidavit that was deposed to by the plaintiff, he averred that the 1st defendant retired from Nigerian Army on August 1985 after he was removed from office as military Head of State pursuant to a military coup.
“That the 1st defendant left the Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund as its Executive Chairman in May 1999. That I know for a fact that the 1st defendant stated on oath that his certificates evidencing his educational qualifications are in the possession of the Nigerian Army.
“That I know for a fact that at a press conference held on January 20, 2015, the Nigerian Army spokesman, Brigadier General Oluseye Lajide stated that the Nigerian Army is not in possession of the 1st defendant’s certificates evidencing his educational qualifications”.
He told the court that a Statement of Result that was eventually made available to the press by the 1st defendant through Government College Katsina and a University of Cambridge West Africa School Certificate Result sheet, had the name of one “Mohammed Buhari”, “and not the name of the 1st defendant as copiously appeared and used in the 1st defendant’s voters card. Affidavit and other documents attached to his INEC Form C.F. 001”.
Meantime, both Buhari and the APC have queried the competence of all the suits, even as they challenged the jurisdiction of the court to hear them.
The defendants equally challenged the propriety of orders of Justice Adeniyi which had permitted the plaintiffs to serve the Originating Summons on them through substituted means.
Justice Adeniyi had on February 2, directed that the court processes should be served on the defendants by publishing same in three national dailies.
The court also granted an order of abridgment of time within which the defendants must respond to the suits.
However, both Buhari and his party, contended that there was no urgency in the matter to warrant the court to hear the suits in a hurry.
Thus, in separate preliminary objections that were filed by counsel to Buhari, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, and that of the APC, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, they asked the court to set-aside all the orders it has made in the matter so far.
It was further their contention that the subject matter of the suit bothers on pre-election issues which they said is not time bound, adding that the suits could be determined even after the presidential election.
Nevertheless, counsel to the plaintiff, Chief Mike Ozehkome, SAN, urged the court to expedite hearing on the matter so as to determine Buhari’s fate before the presidential poll.
Ozehkome relied on Order 29 Rules (1- 5) of the Federal High Court Civil Procedure Rules, and insisted that there was need to speed up hearing on the matter.
“Our application has to do with the disqualification of the 1st defendant. It is better to do it timeously before the election. My lord there are more than 16 presidential candidates participating in the election. Does it mean that disqualifying one of them will amount to truncating the election? That is over exaggeration my lord
“The position of the law as adumbrated in a legion of cases, starting from the apex court, is that in an action commenced by Originating Summons such as ours, which is meant to construct certain section of the Electoral Act and the constitution, the Originating Summons should be taken together and cumulatively with any process challenging the jurisdiction of this court to hear the suit.
”This matter should be expeditiously heard and determined before March 28 so that we don’t have the situation of having a pretender put on the throne”, Ozehkome posited.
His submission infuriated Buhari’s lead counsel, Olanipekun, SAN, who insisted that all the suits were targeted at stopping the presidential election.
Olanipekun urged the court not to allow itself to be used as a tool to truncate democracy in Nigeria, stressing that “section 87(11) of the Electoral Act, as amended, cautions courts not to do anything or take any action or issue any injunction that will stop the holding of primary or general election”.
He said: “My lord, it appears that this matter is targeted at stopping the presidential election, if that is the case my lord. This court should not be used for that purpose.
”There is no law, authority or decision that compels any court to give judgment in a pre-election matter before the election itself. The matter is not time bound; it is not like election petition.
“My lord the Supreme Court has held that pre-election matter remains a live issue before or after election. What we are saying is that the court is not encouraged to rush pre-election matters because it is said that justice rushed is justice crushed”, he argued.
On its part, the APC, through its lawyer, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, aligned with Buhari and argued that the issue about the legality of the service of the court process on the defendants must be determined first.
Likewise, INEC lawyer Mr. Hassan Liman, SAN, told the court that the commission has also entered a preliminary objection against the suits.